Simple mathematical law benchmarks human confrontations

Neil F Johnson, Pablo Medina, Guannan Zhao, Daniel S. Messinger, John Horgan, Paul Gill, Juan Camilo Bohorquez, Whitney Mattson, Devon Gangi, Hong Qi, Pedro Manrique, Nicolas Velasquez, Ana Morgenstern, Elvira M Restrepo, Nicholas Johnson, Michael Spagat, Roberto Zarama

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Many high-profile societal problems involve an individual or group repeatedly attacking another - from child-parent disputes, sexual violence against women, civil unrest, violent conflicts and acts of terror, to current cyber-attacks on national infrastructure and ultrafast cyber-trades attacking stockholders. There is an urgent need to quantify the likely severity and timing of such future acts, shed light on likely perpetrators, and identify intervention strategies. Here we present a combined analysis of multiple datasets across all these domains which account for >100,000 events, and show that a simple mathematical law can benchmark them all. We derive this benchmark and interpret it, using a minimal mechanistic model grounded by state-of-the-art fieldwork. Our findings provide quantitative predictions concerning future attacks; a tool to help detect common perpetrators and abnormal behaviors; insight into the trajectory of a 'lone wolf'; identification of a critical threshold for spreading a message or idea among perpetrators; an intervention strategy to erode the most lethal clusters; and more broadly, a quantitative starting point for cross-disciplinary theorizing about human aggression at the individual and group level, in both real and online worlds.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number3463
JournalScientific reports
StatePublished - Dec 10 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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